Ireland: Some news from the Mahon community

In a previous account of our mission in Mahon published in the Pain de Chez Nous in March 2006, we concentrated on the early years of Mahon community, the housing estate that ’sprung up’ the arrival of the new residents and our sisters’ response to the needs of families in the area at that time. In this issue we will give you a ’flavour’ of current ministries.
 
We are four in community – Sisters Therese, Carmel, Margaret and Mary. 
 
Therese (formerly Therese Austin) continues family support with some of our neighbours who live nearby and can be reached on foot as she must adjust to her slower pace. 
 
Carmel counsels parents and individuals as well as conducting Family Systems Workshops with groups. In her Counselling and Family Systems groups she works with people’s interpersonal issues principally regarding relationships, family and marital and also with intra-personal issues such as building a sense of self, self esteem, coping with life, depression, abandonment issues, grief and loss, trauma/abuse and loss related to unemployment. 
 
Margaret, who serves on the Parish Assembly and with the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), shares some of her experience here. 
’Since coming to Mahon, in 2010 I have been involved with a small parish group whose purpose is to journey in faith with people wishing to become full members of the Catholic Church. This process of preparation involves a number of stages punctuated by liturgical rites to aid and assist the person towards the final Rite. This may include Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. It usually takes place at the Easter Vigil when they become full members of the Catholic Church. The entire process takes several months but the participants are invited to proceed at a pace that suits themselves.
 
The RCIA was introduced after Vatican 2, putting the emphasis on the role of the local church community in journeying with new members preparing to become full members of the Roman Catholic Church. The local parish group meets weekly with the participants and we follow a programme drawn up at Diocesan level. Most of the people who seek entry to the Church are from other countries, Europeans and some from Africa. They may have been baptised in their own country and want to receive Confirmation and Eucharist in Ireland. Some are here for a number of years.
 
In 2013 a Nigerian man, Ade O., asked to follow the RCIA process. He is in Ireland for many years and some of his five children were born here. His wife was reared in a Catholic family in Nigeria so she gave him great support. She had received her education from Irish missionaries in her own country. We had a very meaningful and happy celebration when Ade received Eucharist for the first time and also Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday. His wife was his sponsor for Confirmation. We had a small celebration afterwards in the parish centre and the African family expressed their joy at being part of our local Faith Community.
 
While the new members are learning about the faith they wish to profess, it is also a time for the local group to be renewed in their own faith. Our meeting consists of scripture readings, reflections and prayer together. It is quite an enriching experience for all concerned as well as a supportive one. It is a relatively new experience for the Irish people to be welcoming others to our country whose culture, language, history and religious experience are so different from ours, this is enrichment also.’
Margaret Hickey.
 
 
In 2008 the Family Resource Centre became independent of the Little Sisters. It is managed by local voluntary management and has employed a lay co-ordinator. This was achieved through a Community Development approach focussed on training local leaders and passing on skills. The centre continues to offer services to low-income families on social welfare payments or unemployment benefit. It seeks always to provide these services to the most impoverished and disadvantaged people in the area. However, we have discovered over the years that the people most in need of these supports find it really difficult to engage with the centre due to their vulnerabilities. 
As I am no longer engaged with the Family Centre, I have been able to offer intensive family support to vulnerable young families headed by lone parents and who have addictions in their lives. I work predominantly in the family home with parent(s) and their children (much like the traditional Little Sisters ‘family care’), though with these families the contact has to be long-term, intensive support and the steps to health and wholeness are very small and gradual ones. Lily’s story illustrates this.
 
In January 2010, I was introduced to Lily and her four little boys aged 8, 3, 2 and a baby 3 months old. Lily had left home and school at the age of 12 and began using a variety of addictive substances. At the time that we met, Lily had recently returned to Mahon (where she grew up) having left an abusive relationship with a man in the U.K. She was active in her addictions to alcohol and drugs and her behaviour towards the children was intemperate, unpredictable and generally dysfuntional. The children also displayed various disturbed behaviours. 
 
From January to July that year, I worked daily with Lily and her children in their home, supporting mother to develop her parenting skills, encouraging her to be emotionally present to her children, engaging in their play, establishing routines and cooking meals for them etc. while still living with the effects of her active addictions. Her efforts were hampered by the frequent presence of other young adults from the area, who gathered in her home to use addictive substances out of sight of the police as they could be arrested for using such substances in public. This compounded a very unpredictable and dysfunctional environment for small children. Despite her best efforts and mine, her four children were placed in Foster Care by the Health Services Social Work Department in July, so that they would have a more supportive environment to grow and develop in. This became the stimulus for Lily to enter a residential treatment programme. 
 
I continued with weekly support contacts while she was in treatment and attended monthly Family Day Sessions when the children would come to the Centre to be with their mother. It was a very difficult journey for Lily; nevertheless, she gained some understanding of the effects of addictive behaviour. However, as often happens with anyone trying to quit addictions, she had a relapse after a few months, but quickly made a renewed effort by entering into a daily treatment programme at Arbour House. Through that programe and with our ongoing support Lily made exceptional strides in recovery from addictions, gaining insight into the nature of addictive behaviours and a positive sense of self, and she grew in self-esteem. She completed courses in child development, parenting and re-focussing. Overall she succeeded in turning her life around to a healthy lifestyle. With my support, she learned to make curries, spagetti bolognese, pizzas, pancakes, scones, apple pie and on one occasion a birthday cake for one of the children. The children love her home cooked meals when they come home at week-ends from foster care and can enjoy helping to make meals as well. It is a big change for them to experience their mother being attentive to them rather than thinking about her next ‘fix’. When Lily made scones for the first time by herself, she gave me four to bring home, one for each Sister. 
 
On 15th August this year, 2013, Lily marked two years of sobriety. She has recently completed the twelve-step programme and is now beginning a two-year aftercare programme with Arbour House. She also continues to attend AA meetings.
 
Earlier this year, Lily applied for and successfully gained a place to return to education on the course ‘Fresh Start’ through the National Learning Network. She is currently pursuing a housing transfer with the City Council Housing Department so that her children will get a fresh start in their lives too. Lily looks forward to being reunited permanently with her children and, hopefully, in a new home. I am convinced that this family’s growth is the work of God and it reminds me of a quote from Antoinette Fage … ’You, Lord, will make up for my inexperience. You will teach me how to be respectful, sensitive, and tactful towards (people’s) misfortunes.’ Having read this, Lily gave me permission to tell her story. 
 
Through this work with a number of similarly vulnerable young families we have been planning short courses for small groups of parents to address their needs around personal development, budgeting, child development, relationships, sexual health etc. We invited some of the mothers to contribute ideas for the courses and they did this with openness. However, they resisted the idea of having fathers participating, either the fathers of their own children or other fathers who are parenting alone. There is a challenge in this to help fathers and mothers get some appreciation of the vital part each plays in the lives of their children.
 
Sister Mary 
18/12/2013
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